Monday was the newbie portion of the In-Season Tournament quarterfinals. Tuesday is for the vets. The league’s two biggest markets (New York and Los Angeles) will be represented, and the four teams have three combined MVPs (LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo) along with six other healthy former All-Stars (Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez).
Should this change the way you bet? Only slightly. Remember that these are high-profile players and teams in games that should draw more action than typical regular-season contests. The public is going to back the famous people. Keep an eye on role player props and unders. In this space, though, we’re focusing on the spread, so here are our picks for Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchups.
New York Knicks at Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are a tricky matchup for the Knicks in that they can’t be bullied physically. New York relies on its No. 2-ranked offensive rebounding rate to generate extra possessions that keep its offense afloat. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez aren’t going to make that easy for them. Fortunately, the rest of the Bucks will make life easy on one Knick in particular.
Jalen Brunson scored 45 points the last time these two teams met. That’s an increasingly common phenomenon. Milwaukee has played 20 games and has allowed 12 different perimeter players to reach 30 points against them. They don’t have a single perimeter defender that can stay in front of Brunson. If Brunson was solely reliant on the rim for his points, this might be an easier matchup for the Bucks because of all that size inside. But Brunson can exploit Milwaukee’s drop-coverage with a slew of mid-range jumpers and pull-up 3’s that they simply have no counter for. Expect a big Brunson game that at least nets the Knicks a cover, if not an outright win. The Pick: Knicks +4.5
Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have beaten the Suns twice… but they haven’t beaten Devin Booker yet this season. His presence makes this a completely different matchup. When the Suns have Booker and Kevin Durant on the floor at the same time, they’re scoring a staggering 128.3 points per 100 possessions this season, according to Cleaning the Glass.
The obvious counter here is that the Lakers are finally getting their wing defenders back. Jarred Vanderbilt made his season debut against the Rockets on Saturday. Cam Reddish recently returned as well, and Rui Hachimura expects to play on Tuesday as well. But Durant has scored 77 total points in two games against the Lakers this season. Those two are as close to defense-proof as stars get because so much of their shot diet consists of contested mid-range jumpers they can hit over anybody. They’re going to score points on Tuesday. The Lakers? They’re pretty hit or miss on offense, so lean Phoenix in this one. The Pick: Suns +1.5